I have no proof, but I am fairly certain “vacation” is the most magical word in the English language. It can put a smile on just about anybody’s face! If that’s not magic I don’t know what is. It has the strangest ability to make the week preceding the most productive of the year. The week after is generally pretty busy as well. It’s a badly needed recharge for our human batteries after months, maybe years of wear and tear. The time away can be an opportunity to see new sights, gain new experiences, or do absolutely nothing at all.
At least, that’s the modern vacation. Just a few generations ago, vacations were reserved for the wealthy and, a few generations further, it was full-time daily work just to have food on the table that day. So it may surprise you to know the word dates back to the mid-1300s and the Middle English “vacacioun”. Of course, its meaning was more akin to an act of vacating than the act of “getting away.” Even into the early 1700s, when idle hands were considered the devil’s workshop, leisure time was often frowned upon.
By the middle of the 19th Century, however, doctors and ministers were preaching the value of taking an occasional break for mental and physical health. About the same time, infrastructure was beginning to develop so we could literally get away. Railroads made it possible for landlocked citizens to see the beach, and an industry was born. Over the past two centuries, the idea of vacation has moved from the annual vacation of classrooms and courts, to an annual (at least) escape from work and, often, home. But, at least in the U.S., we seem to have work still to do, so to speak. As many of our European friends are fond of saying, “We Europeans work so we can take a vacation. You Americans, though, seem to take a vacation so you can go back to work!”
Yep…we still have work to do.